George Washington Carver: Transforming American Agriculture

Contributed by Camille Johnson

George Washington Carver was a groundbreaking innovator and inventor, but over the past century his massive accomplishments have been distilled down to one point – the invention of peanut butter. As we celebrate him this month, it’s important to know that Carver’s legacy went much further.

Born in 1864 in Diamond Grove, Missouri, George Washington Carver was always exceptional. He taught himself to read and write and displayed an interest in plants from a very young age. After completing his secondary education, he attended Simpson College in Iowa before transferring to Iowa State where he studied agricultural chemistry. His academic success led Booker T. Washington to offer him a teaching position at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama; it was here that Carver’s innovative legacy began.

While teaching at the Tuskegee Institute in 1916, George Washington Carver began sharing agricultural bulletins and brochures that instructed Southern farmers on practical uses for peanuts. He believed that peanuts were a cash crop that could help free southerners from the rural poverty that plagued them – other people agreed. Land devoted to peanut cultivation grew from ½ million acres in 1915 to more than 4 million acres in 1918. By 1921 Carver received national attention for the soaps, face powder, face bleach, washing powder, milk, wood stains and dyes he created from peanuts – proving that peanuts were indeed a multi-use, cash crop.

During his time at the Tuskegee Institute, George Washington Carver created approximately 300 products from peanuts, including insulation, flour, paper, wall board, shaving cream and skin lotion. Carver’s innovative transformation of peanuts also extended to World War I, where he created peanut-based replacements for rubber that were used by Henry Ford.

George Washington Carver had a lasting impact on the economy of the rural South and transformed the way scientists and Americans used basic crops. This Black History Month, we honor him and his phenomenal contributions to the legacy of Black Americans.


Learn more about George Washington Carver, including his innovative use of sweet potatoes, here.